Fine root litter is the principal source of carbon stored in forest soils and a dominant source of carbon for fungal decomposers. Differences in decomposer capacity between fungal species may be important determinants of fine-root decomposition rates. Variable-retention harvesting (VRH) provides refuge for ectomycorrhizal fungi, but its influence on fine-root decomposers is unknown, as are the effects of functional shifts in these fungal communities on carbon cycling. We compared fungal communities decomposing fine roots (in litter bags) under VRH, clear-cut, and uncut stands at two sites (6 and 13 years postharvest) and two decay stages (43 days and 1 year after burial) in Douglas fir forests in coastal British Columbia, Canada. Fungal species and guilds were identified from decomposed fine roots using high-throughput sequencing. Variable retention had short-term effects on ß-diversity; harvest treatment modified the fungal community composition at the 6-year-postharvest site, but not at the 13-year-postharvest site. Ericoid and ectomycorrhizal guilds were not more abundant under VRH, but stand age significantly structured species composition. Guild composition varied by decay stage, with ruderal species later replaced by saprotrophs and ectomycorrhizae. Ectomycorrhizal abundance on decomposing fine roots may partially explain why fine roots typically decompose more slowly than surface litter. Our results indicate that stand age structures fine-root decomposers but that decay stage is more important in structuring the fungal community than shifts caused by harvesting. The rapid postharvest recovery of fungal communities decomposing fine roots suggests resiliency within this community, at least in these young regenerating stands in coastal British Columbia.IMPORTANCE Globally, fine roots are a dominant source of carbon in forest soils, yet the fungi that decompose this material and that drive the sequestration or respiration of this carbon remain largely uncharacterized. Fungi vary in their capacity to decompose plant litter, suggesting that fungal community composition is an important determinant of decomposition rates. Variable-retention harvesting is a forestry practice that modifies fungal communities by providing refuge for ectomycorrhizal fungi. We evaluated the effects of variable retention and clear-cut harvesting on fungal communities decomposing fine roots at two sites (6 and 13 years postharvest), at two decay stages (43 days and 1 year), and in uncut stands in temperate rainforests. Harvesting impacts on fungal community composition were detected only after 6 years after harvest. We suggest that fungal community composition may be an important factor that reduces fine-root decomposition rates relative to those of above-ground plant litter, which has important consequences for forest carbon cycling. Copyright © 2018 American Society for Microbiology.
Journal: Applied and environmental microbiology